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Last updated 5:27AM ET
February 27, 2021
Alabama
Alabama
Jury Foreman Surprised Exxon Award Overturned
(2007-11-05)
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - The foreman of the Alabama jury that returned a record verdict against Exxon Mobil said he was "completely shocked" by the state Supreme Court throwing out nearly all the $3.6 billion judgment won by the state government.

"I couldn't sleep that night," Joey King, a Montgomery elementary school teacher, said Monday.

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday the state failed to prove fraud against Exxon Mobil and threw out all of the punitive damages, which made up most of the judgment. The court's 8-1 decision left $51.9 million, plus interest, in compensatory damages for breach of contract.

"I was completely shocked. I thought there might be a few siding with Exxon," but not a majority, King said in a phone interview.

In 2003, King was foreman of a jury that decided Exxon Mobil had intentionally underpaid the state for royalties from natural gas wells the company drilled in state-owned waters along the Alabama coast. The jury issued an $11.9 billion verdict, which the trial judge cut to $3.6 billion.

Both amounts remain the largest judgments ever returned by Alabama courts.

King said oil company documents presented at the trial showed corporate officials treated Alabama "like we were too dumb to catch" the underpayments, and the jury was convinced the state's attorneys proved fraud.

"From the moment we walked into the jury room, we were ready to vote and everybody voted against Exxon. The only thing we had to consider was the amount," he recalled.

The Supreme Court took an opposite view in its decision. In Justice Harold See's view, the documents that impressed the jury simply showed "that Exxon adopted an interpretation of the leases that it believed could be supported by the terms of the leases."

King is the neighbor of Supreme Court Justice Lyn Stuart in Montgomery's historic Garden District and does yard work for her. Stuart was one of the eight Republicans in the majority. King said he never told his neighbor that he was the jury foreman and has not seen her since the decision.

The court's lone Democrat, Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, cast the dissent.

King, who describes himself as a Democrat, said he hopes Republican Gov. Bob Riley will ask the court to reconsider its decision. So far, Riley hasn't announced a decision.

"I've been listening every day for his reaction and haven't heard anything," King said.

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